Dec 10 2021

CDW Tech Talk: Gaining Insight into the Key IT Trends of 2021

As the pandemic persisted through 2021, hybrid work, cybersecurity and corporate culture have proved to be dominant IT trends.

The IT trends of 2020 were defined by the way organizations reacted to the pandemic and the immediate need to enable remote work. Many of those same trends continued into 2021, even as work has begun shifting from purely remote to a more hybrid arrangement for many organizations.

Hybrid work presents many of the same IT challenges as fully remote work: supplying equipment for employees, enabling remote access for end users and adapting security strategies to account for a sudden proliferation of endpoints. But the shift to hybrid work has also put a spotlight on the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion and how technology can be leveraged to improve corporate culture.

At the heart of these trends is the importance of a well-designed infrastructure that aligns with business outcomes. In 2021, those decisions were driven by the desire of organizations from every industry to unlock the value and potential of the data they create and collect.

Data Was a Driving Force Behind IT Trends in 2021

In August, Stephan Stelter, national technical partner manager at NetApp, joined CDW’s Tech Talk webcast to discuss how organizations can use their existing on-premises infrastructure to leverage tools in the cloud, ultimately getting the most out of their data.

“When I talk to customers, there’s different interpretations of how they want to take the next step in their IT infrastructure and how they want to become flexible and take advantage of the instant availability of things like cloud architectures,” Stelter said. “There are pieces of optimizing your on-premises infrastructure that really lend themselves to being able to leverage next-generation cloud technologies.”

“Now, in our use case, for many of our data sets, we want to park them near enough to the cloud for development activities to be able to leverage the extensibility of the processing power of the cloud,” he explained. “A lot of our day-to-day operations are on-prem. So, again, preserving this single source of truth, this single data set that we acknowledge, and providing capabilities and governance is key to our longer-term strategy.”

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Cybersecurity Stepped into the Spotlight This Year

Protecting data environments is not a new concern for any organization. Security has always been a top priority for IT professionals. However, the number and sophistication of ransomware attacks increased in 2021, forcing the federal government to take notice and setting off a serious reconsideration of cybersecurity strategies nationwide.

In September, Druva CTO Stephen Manley joined a CDW Tech Talk webcast to offer some advice on how organizations can better protect themselves.

“Ransomware attackers have learned this: Your backups are your best defense,” Manley said. “If you have secure backups, if you have backups that are held offsite, that are unattackable by the attackers — ideally, offsite and managed in a totally separate account on immutable storage, so that they can't be modified, and that are tested so that you know you can recover — that’s your first line of defense.”

Manley explained that this backup plan allows an organization the option of refusing to pay the ransom in the event of an attack. Instead, it could clear out the data environment and simply restore the data to get operations back up and running.

Infrastructure Can Help Minimize Downtime and Damage

Ransomware remains a major threat, and many organizations have found themselves vulnerable to attack as they’ve adopted digital solutions to enable remote access. Many healthcare organizations were unprepared to provide care remotely, and some of them made hasty IT decisions to address the situation.

Fortunately for Sky Lakes Medical Center, a rural community health provider, its IT leaders had begun a digital transformation journey before the pandemic hit. Sky Lakes Director of Information Systems John Gaede and Technology Systems Manager Nick Fossen joined a September edition of CDW’s Tech Talk webcast series to share their experiences.

Gaede and Fossen noted that they had implemented a full platform of hyperconverged infrastructure for computing, storage, networking and backup. “Before we went to hyperconverged, we had all those things separate,” Fossen explained. He detailed how separate processes were supported by different vendors, which made management and upgrades difficult and complex.

“When we moved to hyperconverged, now you have one vendor, it’s all tied together. The management of it is extremely easy in comparison to a three-tiered structure,” he said. “Once COVID hit, it saved us from having to spend all this time managing the system. And then, of course, ransomware was a huge component that’s gone into the backups. If we wouldn’t have had that backup solution, we wouldn’t have recovered from ransomware. It would have been painful.”

2021 Brought a Shift in Employee Expectations

As organizations shifted to a hybrid work environment in 2021, there was a growing awareness of new cultural issues. Collaboration has become critical to success, but the way employees work together is changing.

Andy Rhodes, general manager and global head of commercial systems and display solutions at HP, joined a CDW Tech Talk webcast in October to highlight the need for collaboration in a hybrid work environment.

“I think the big challenge we’re going to have is people have gotten very used to having their personal setup mainly at home. The end users are going to demand the same amount of service. And when I say service, I mean, ‘I want the same ability to be productive, I want the same freedoms to move around and I want them in this new environment,’” Rhodes said.

These evolving expectations will require different responses from leadership as well as from IT departments, Rhodes said. “I think IT has to understand that productivity is going to be measured in many different states, not just at home, and that’s going to be a big challenge, because how do you set up the office? How do you set up people’s homes? How do you set them up for when they’re traveling between those states? And how do you do that and not be overburdened with a huge amount of cost into the organization?”

Rhodes cited an additional challenge specifically related to hybrid work: Leadership must make all employees feel like equal contributors. “It’s about having everyone as a first-class citizen in these environments, so you don’t go back to those old habits where there’s four people in the room, there’s two people remote that get ignored,” he said. “They don’t hear what's going on, don’t pick up the nuances and the body language. So, I think that’s going to be one of the big challenges on the IT side.”

WATCH: Learn more about how to leverage technology to ensure better collaboration.

2021 Required a Reconsideration of Corporate Culture

In a separate October webcast, Cisco’s Shari Slate, chief inclusion and collaboration officer and senior vice president of inclusive future and strategy, and Gianpaolo Barozzi, senior director of human resources and talent management, spoke about concerns similar to those Rhodes expressed.

“We created our collaboration commitments to provide individuals, leaders and teams with three pillars, with clarity on how we are expecting them to behave and to work together on accountability, inclusion and well-being,” he said.

“The one I love the most is in the area of inclusion, which says we commit to building trust and ensuring everyone’s voice is heard, regardless of where they work. It is simple and powerful,” he said.

Slate summed up her approach with one word: empathy. “Empathy has long been a leadership skill that we all aspire to have, but it’s never been more important than it is today. Empathy touches everything from innovation through to retention through to how people feel from an inclusion standpoint.”

Barozzi pointed out that before the pandemic, 14 percent of meetings included remote participants, but in the future, 98 percent of all collaboration meetings will have at least one remote participant. “This is why empathy is becoming so critical between participants from multiple locations. I like to call it the gravitational field keeping the organization together. At Cisco, we refer to it as our superpower for creating an inclusive, hybrid, empathic collaboration experience. If there is no empathy, we will surely see more burnout, video fatigue, lack of connection and engagement. Just delivering the best technology and the best training on how to use it is not enough. We need to create inclusive, collaborative empathic experiences in a much more deliberate way.”

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Getty Images/ Laurence Dutton

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